3 Ways Abusers Can Work Toward A Healthy Marriage | BTR.ORG

3 Ways Abusers Can Work Toward A Healthy Marriage

by | Abuse Literacy

Center For Peace: Cultivating A Healthy Marriage After Emotional Abuse

Betrayal Trauma Recovery advocates for the safety of women and children. By interviewing three abusive men who recognize their abuse and want to change, BTR hopes to offer insight and information that will help women get to safety, not try to rescue their abusers.

BTR supports Center For Peace as the only abuse cessation organization that addresses pornography use as abuse and takes emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial abuse seriously.

Is a healthy, happy marriage possible after betrayal and emotional abuse? Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, explores this difficult question with James, an abusive man trying to change. James is a client at Center For Peace, and was previously on the BTR podcast. Together, they identify three pivotal ways that abusers must live amends to lay the foundation for a healthy marriage after abuse. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.

Live Amends For Villainizing The Victim

Many abusers create a network of enablers who not only condone his abuse behaviors, but villainize the victim and even label her as the abusive one.

James, a Center For Peace client shares his experience acknowledging and then choosing to live amends for the damage he caused his wife by making her out to be the abusive one:

Center For Peace has given me the knowledge to be informed of my choices and of my behavior and how I have, even personally, led people to treat my wife in a way as if she is the offender and not me.

James, Center For Peace client

How Can Abusers Live Amends For Villainizing The Victim?

The trauma that victims experience when they are wrongly labelled as abusive can be long-lasting and debilitating. Tragically, many victims spend significant time wondering if they really are the abusive one.

Some of the ways that abusers can begin to live amends for creating this pain and chaos are:

  • With the permission of the abused partner and help of a trauma-informed professional at Center For Peace) tell the truth about the abuse in a simple, healthy way to family, friends, and clergy of the victim
  • Choose to live an authentic life in every situation
  • Acknowledge the trauma that was inflicted when the victim was villainized and, as often as the victim needs/wants, offer sincere apologies

Live Amends For Gaslighting & Manipulation

I think the whole world needs to wake up to this reality that narcissism and gaslighting and manipulation are very real and very prevalent in society.

James, Center For Peace client

Gaslighting and other forms of manipulation are insidiously abusive tools used by abusers to protect their abusive behaviors. The effect that gaslighting has on women is severe and can impact her ability to trust herself, trust others, and understand reality.

If abusers are not willing to own up to and live amends for the pain, trauma, and devastation caused by their choice to gaslight and manipulate victims, then there is no chance of a healthy relationship.

Live Amends For The Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Manifestations Of Abuse

Betrayal and abuse can affect women in every aspect of their lives: their physical health, emotional stability, spirituality, sexuality, and even their mental health. Abuse decimates the victim’s wellbeing.

Many victims of abuse and betrayal suffer from:

  • Chronic headaches/migraines
  • Chronic muscle and joint pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Sleep disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Respiratory issues
  • Pelvic pain
  • Sexual pain

And those are just some of the physical issues that afflict abused women. Depression, anxiety, phobias, and more can become lifelong and debilitating.

How Can Abusers Live Amends For Disrupting Their Partner’s Health And Wellbeing?

Abusive men can live amends for the effects of their abuse by not only recognizing what they have done to their partner’s health and wellbeing, but committing to do everything in their power to aid their partner in finding healing and peace.

When you understand the pain that your wife has endured and the fact that some of us have been blessed to still have a spouse and haven’t gone through a divorce, it’s like, ‘This is the least I can do. The least I can do is patiently wait.’ Not only patiently wait for my wife to be healed but for me to display consistent long-term behaviors of change, so that she can actually see progress in my life.

-James, Center for Peace client

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Advocates For Women’s Safety

At BTR, our number one priority is that women are safe. For some women this means leaving their abuser permanently. For others, it means watching from a distance to see if he is truly willing to change.

The decision to stay or go is complex and personal. Every victim of abuse and betrayal deserves a safe space, free from judgment, to process trauma, ask questions, share stories, and connect with other victims who get it.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in multiple time zones. Join today and receive the validation and support that you need as you begin your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Many of you are sheltering in place. This has been a crazy ride. I have spent some days with an hour or two of crying, and every day enjoying being with my children. They are the best.

Some days are good, and some days are bad. Some moments are good, some moments are bad. It’s been a roller coaster for me and I’m sure you’re feeling it too with the current coronavirus situation.

Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group

During these difficult times, you can find the support that you need at the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, with daily, live sessions in every time zone.

The betrayal and emotional harm you are going through is a domestic abuse issue, even if the police don’t recognize it. Even if your local domestic violence shelter doesn’t recognize it. Lying, manipulation, gaslighting, running you around in circles for their entertainment is an abuse issue.

Meet James, An Abusive Husband Working Toward a Healthy Marriage

Today, we are continuing the conversation with James. He is a Center for Peace client. His wife, because of the COVID-19 situation and her professional life, has been rescheduled for a later date, but please know that I do have permission from her to interview her husband.

She says he is doing fairly well and that she feels fine with the interviews that we’ve been doing. That’s always important to me. I never want to have a man come on who is touting his recovery without asking his wife and without knowing her perspective because a man is always going to say he is doing well.

That’s a concern for me and I always make sure to double-check with his wife or his victim to ensure that it’s not just a way to get attention or a way to pump up his ego.

Men Have To Accept The Truth About Abuse To Work Toward a Healthy Marriage

We’re going to continue the conversation with James. We’re going to start it with my philosophizing about society and how society, in general, does not educate men about abusive behaviors.

It doesn’t educate men about misogamy or sexism or these types of issues. Many men don’t understand when you say, “These are abusive behaviors.” They’re like, “No, they’re not.” The reason they don’t think they’re abusive is that they don’t know squat about abuse.

They don’t understand abuse. They haven’t studied it. They don’t know, so all they can think is, “Well, I don’t punch her in the face.” They just don’t understand that, if you lie to your wife or if you fail to get consent or if you gaslight or manipulate, you are an emotional abuser. You are a psychological abuser. That is something that everyone needs to understand, so I bring that up with James.

Abuse Is A Societal Issue

We’ll continue the conversation with James now.

What are your thoughts about that? As you’ve realized, maybe having some compassion on yourself, that this isn’t just you. I don’t want to call you an abuser James, I want to say that you’ve been engaging in abusive behaviors and that you’re working toward engaging in healthy behaviors.

I prefer to say that because it feels more comfortable to me. Just because you have used abusive behaviors in the past does not mean that you are destined to continue using them in the future.

Working Toward a Healthy Marriage Means Rejecting Misogyny

What are your thoughts about not knowing and not being educated about this? How do you feel about that? I don’t want you to feel sorry for yourself, so I don’t want to go down that road, but do you have some thoughts on that, now that you know what a difference it has made or how you’ve observed it in other people or in society in general?

James: Yeah, I do. Particularly given the nature of movement and the culture that we’re in, if you look back in the ’60s and ‘70s, men were just misogynistic and narcissistic and had just a really interesting perspective of “head of the household.”

I was reared and raised, not necessarily in that type of environment, but around me in my community and in my church, I saw that. I saw this very much “it’s all about me” life, and the wife is “supposed to be,”—at least that was what was communicated through actions—the wife is supposed to be the subservient one and “I can do what I want.”

When People Blame Victims, They Enable Abuse

I think it’s been propagated amongst the country, particularly with men, and it’s scary. It really is scary for me because now I have the knowledge and I’ve been informed of my choices and of my behavior and how I have, even personally, led people to treat my wife in a way as if she is the offender and not me.

I remember a counseling session, literally two different counselors, they both said, “Wow.” I’d convinced them, through my actions, that I was this upstanding guy when I really wasn’t. But then they would look to my wife and say, “Now, what have you done to add to this problem?” Both of them actually blamed my wife and gave her responsibility for my choices.

Abusive Men Must Accept Responsibility To Work Toward a Healthy Marriage

Looking back on that it’s like, “Oh, my God, what were we doing?” Now, at the time, I was like, “Yeah, what are you doing? Why aren’t you this way? Why aren’t you nicer in the way you talk to me? Why are you so mean?” But those weren’t her behaviors.

She was hurt, she was in pain, she was suffering from post-traumatic stress and having to balance these continual, residual actions on my behalf. I had to see for myself that culture should not promote abusive behavior, not only on behalf of the abuser but also on the people who look for advice and counsel on how to get better.

I think the whole world needs to wake up to this reality that narcissism and gaslighting and manipulation are very real and very prevalent in society. Until we’re able to put our finger on it, identify it, and correct it, we will continue to see relationships crumble and, particularly, women will have to suffer unnecessarily because of unhealthy men who are only creating unhealthier men. Then it almost becomes a generational curse.

Identifying Abuse is Key To Changing

Anne: That’s what we’re seeing now. It’s so prevalent and getting help is so difficult. That’s why so many women gravitate to BTR because they’re like, “We went everywhere and I couldn’t figure it out.” The interesting thing is the addict, or the abuser is like, “This CSAT is fine or this therapist is fine. I don’t know why you’re complaining.” They’re like, “Why can’t you get over it.” They’re a little bit like, “What’s the deal?”

In the Center for Peace program—we’ll keep things confidential—there was a man who did not want to let go of all of his entitlements. Joi told me that he said, “I don’t want a BTR marriage. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want a BTR marriage.” 

Pornography Use Is Not Compatible With a Healthy Marriage

Let’s talk about that for a minute. There are a lot of people right now, mainly I would say sex addiction experts, who think that I, Anne Blythe and BTR, have gone too far by saying that pornography use is abusive to your spouse. In addition to all the other behaviors that surround it, the lying, the gaslighting, the manipulation, and all of that, that is abusive to your spouse.

Going back to that BTR marriage. At first, did you think that? Did you think, “This is just a bunch of women who are man-haters?” I get that all the time. I get, “She’s gone too far. She wants people to get divorced. She’s a man-hater. She’s trying to ruin people,” or whatever, instead of recognizing that what I want, and what we want at BTR, is a marriage of mutuality and equality and partnership and a healthy marriage. That is the goal.

Can you speak to that a little bit? Was there a time where you were like, “Ugh, BTR, I hate it”?

Abusers Must Relinquish Self-Centered Entitlement

James: Yes. Before I started the Center for Peace, about two months before, we had to do an interview with Joi, just to get a sense of who we are and what we’ve done. That’s when I first got turned onto the podcast and Lundy Bancroft’s book.

I was reading the book and listening to the BTR podcast and, to be honest, when I thought about it, I was like, “These people are crazy. How dare you call me that. They just want me to have a divorce.” I told Joi, “You guys are telling my wife to be a lesbian. You just want her to be like a man-hating, I am free, hear me roar woman. You just want me to be in pain.”

I mean I was just completely offended. Like, “This is not real. How dare you.”

BTR Advocates For Health & Safety

Anne: This is funny because now you’re talking to me, the woman who you were listening to on the podcast, thinking, “She’s the devil.”

James: Right. Literally, I deleted the podcast. I was like, “I am not engaging. This lady is crazy.” But, through time and attention and diligence and Coach Joi, I learned, “No. It was with healthy men and healthy marriages, where there’s a sense of mutuality where you complement one another. You pick up your slack.”

Abusers Must Relinquish Control Over Others

I tell my wife now, like, “I want you to win. I have won our entire marriage.” I’ve been married going on eight years, not only that we’ve known each other for ten because we met in grad school. I’ve done so much wrong to win. I want you to thrive. Go on your trips, go get your shoes, go get your new luxury car. I don’t care, let me drive the put-put.

I want you to win because the pendulum of actions has swung on my side for so long. It’s been all about me for so long. I feel like a healthy marriage is in the middle but, until we get there completely, it needs to be on my wife’s side. That means my words, my thoughts, my actions, and even my amends, although, in some people’s minds that might be unfair, I think it’s appropriate, given all the things that I’ve done.

The BTR Podcast Can Help Men Who Want to Change

Anne: What do you think now? Do you listen to the podcast now or did you delete it and then you never went back?

James: No, not at all. I definitely listen to it now.

Anne: Oh, you do? What do you think of it now?

James: I listen to it through a different lens now. I listen to it as one who can empathize with the betrayed spouse, who can sit on their side of the street and identify with the pain that they’re enduring. Even being familiar with your story and what you’ve had to endure.

I don’t want to speak specifically to your story, but the situations you’ve had to deal with regarding your spouse and children, I was just like, “Oh my God, that was me.” That was the narcissism and the selfishness, and the manipulation and I was like, “That was me.”

A Healthy Marriage Requires Empathy

Let me say this, because I’m certain my wife is going to say it, I am not perfect. There are still times when I struggle with empathy or I go into my head and I pull away, but then I’ll think back on what I’ve learned or my wife will call me out and I’ll say, “You know what, you’re right. I’m wrong. I shouldn’t have done that. I apologize sincerely. What do I need to do to make this right? What do I need to do to bring safety back into our relationship or into our home?” I think it’s been beneficial.

Something happened recently, it wasn’t major, it was very small. I took some time to really think about it. I journaled about it, which I never did before—now I’m on my third journal because of Joi. I’m like, “Joi, I’ve got to stop buying journals.”—I journaled about it and came to the revelation that I was completely wrong.

I texted her at night and said, “Listen, I’m sorry. This is what I did wrong,” identified the issue, and said, “This is how I’m going to correct it.” She texted back, “I really appreciate that apology.”

Abusers Must Take Ownership Of Their Choices

That was big. That was big because there was a day when I could care less and I would just be like, “That’s on you. You’ve got to get over this.” But now, I take ownership for the stuff that I’ve done.

Anne: I think the repair piece is so important because all of us have moments, like when I react to my kids in a way that I don’t want to. It might not be to the level of lying or manipulation but it’s something that makes them feel bad or uncomfortable. Because we’re all human and we’re all making messes, no matter how healthy or unhealthy we might be, either way, repairing is key.

Men Who Want to Change Must Learn How To Make Restitution

I think that’s something that men who continually use abusive behaviors and can’t seem to get out of it ever, they cannot repair. They don’t know how to repair. They don’t know how to make restitution. They don’t know how to even identify what the problem was in the first place.

Do you think your ability to repair, like overall, has improved? Did you even think about repair before Center for Peace?

James: No, there was no such thing as repair in my mind or restitution. Those were foreign words to me. Like, “Why would I do that? I said I’m sorry so let’s keep going. I said I’m sorry, forgive me, and let’s move on.”

Sometimes, I fall back into that trap and my wife is like, “No, with every decision you make there are consequences.” I’m like, “You’re right, there are consequences.” Before the Center for Peace, that was foreign, but now I understand, like, “No, you have to make right.”

Center For Peace Teaches Men To Empathize With Victims

You have to make this right. You have to show up every single time in a healthy way. Restitution looks different for every relationship. I know that for some it could be more extreme than others, that’s completely up to the betrayed spouse, whatever they need to heal.

In my life and in my home, I have been separated from my wife now physically for 16 months. We have had an out-of-home separation for eight months and then I moved back in and now we have an in-home separation.

We interact, we’re great partners, we have four children, but any type of physical contact and relational contact hasn’t happened, and it won’t be happening for some time. I have stayed sober.

There is no pressure, whatsoever, to engage in any type of physical activity. Although I would love to have a relationship with my wife, I can sincerely say I look forward to the relationship that we will have. That’s not guaranteed, but that’s what repair looks like.

“Grooming” Destroys The Prospect of a Healthy Marriage

If I have to be in this place for another year or two just for me to show signs of consistency, not just temporary health, but consistent healthy behavior, then that’s what I have to do. I won’t stop because I know that’s important.

Anne: I think that’s the difference between grooming and change. I talk about that a lot on the podcast. That you really want to be careful that the positive changes you are seeing are not just grooming.

Does this man just want to resume sexual activity with you, for example, so they’re going to pull out all the stops for a month, let’s say. They’ll act nice and be all cool and whatever and their “ulterior motive” is because they want to have sex with you. Or are they genuinely working toward health behaviors because they care about you, because they love you and want to have a mutually beneficial relationship?

BTR Can Help Victims Identify Grooming

Those are two completely different things and it’s hard to tell, especially when you’ve gone through all this abuse. It’s hard to know. What is this behavior: Is it grooming or is it legit?

It’s hard for the man who’s been exhibiting these abusive behaviors to understand that and give it enough time. That consistency and time is all she has on her side, that’s all she has to go on because she’s had periods of time before this that have seemed good but turned out to be not so good.

Can you speak to that a little bit? Being patient with her process of rebuilding trust in you—you being patient with the process of regaining her trust?

Abusers Must Change Behavior & Thinking

James: Sure. Your definition was me to a T. Love-bombing and being this amazing over-the-top guy for months and then not getting my way and falling right back into my behavior. That was me forever and then I recognized that that’s not right.

Once Center for Peace took place I was like, “Okay, that’s not going to work,” because when you understand the weight of pain that your wife has endured and the fact that some of us have been blessed to still have a spouse and not go through the divorce process, that it’s like, “This is the least that I can do. The least I can do is patiently wait.”

Not only patiently wait for my wife to be healed but to display consistent behaviors and long-term behaviors of consistent change so that she can actually see progress in my life.

A Healthy Marriage Requires Abusers to Listen & Believe The Victim

The way I look at it, at least for me, is I’ll do really, really good and then I’ll plateau for a week. It’s like, “Okay, wait a second. Nope,” and I grab another gear. She’ll identify something that needs to change and I’m like, “Yep, you’re right.” Then I’ll drive and I’m moving up again, and then I’ll hit this peak and I’m like, “Oh, my God. I don’t know if I can keep going.”

Then, something will happen and I’ll be like, “You know what, I’m fighting for this and I’ll go up a little higher.” This is a continual process, it’s like you take two steps forward and one step back and then three steps forward and two steps back. You feel like you’re not moving but you really are.

I could easily complain and say, “Oh my God, I’m not able to have a relationship with my wife, it sucks.” But it’s like, “No, because, six months ago, I was sleeping in an Airbnb. Six months ago, I couldn’t even have a conversation with my wife. I couldn’t even be around her.”

A Healthy Marriage Requires Abusers To Relinquish Entitlement

The fact that I can laugh and joke and call her multiple times a day and, at times, sit down and look at a movie or TV with her now. No, I can’t hug her. No, we can’t have sex or, no, I can’t sleep in my bed, but I can look at her and be mesmerized by not her physical features but by the heart and the character and the woman that she has consistently shown up as. I’m actually more blessed now than ever.

I told Coach Joi that even though I haven’t been relationally active with my wife, I have felt more loved by her in the last 15 months than I have in our entire relationship and she has done nothing differently. It’s the mindset that I have now and that revelation of truth that I have that has caused me to understand the depth of love that can be expressed and experienced in a relationship.

Real Change Helps Abusers Move Toward a Healthy Marriage

Anne: Isn’t it interesting that when you are in that abusive—well, I’m going to say this and if you disagree feel free—but when you’re in that mindset of that abusive place, that you can’t feel love from someone who genuinely cares about you. Can you speak to that for a second?

James: Sure, sure. Dr. Gottman and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. You’re thinking about this whole stonewalling idea. I kind of use that metaphor and that terminology in the sense of your heart is cold. When you’re in that behavior, it truly is.

Abusers Demonize & Blame Victims

I tell my wife that the front of my head, the frontal lobe of my head, could be on fire and I would never experience anything. I couldn’t feel the love. I couldn’t hear the love in her heart. It was impossible.

This wall was built up because, if I truly was open to experiencing her love, then the behavior would not have happened. I had to have an excuse to behave the way I did, so I had to block it out. I had to come up with ways and actions and words to prevent myself from feeling what was pure and true and honest.

Healthy Marriage is Possible When Abusive Men Work Toward Lasting Change

If there is a man out there you should feel that pain. When you feel that pushback, open up your arms, in the middle even of a conversation, stand up and literally open up your arms to be able to not be defensive, to hear what your spouse has to say. If you have to put your hand over your mouth to be able to listen and empathize and understand and give them the space, then that’s what really matters.

Anne: James, this has been very fascinating for me. I really appreciate and can hear your sincerity. I hope it’s sincere. One of the reasons I make you use an alias is because, if we find out that you’re a psychopath later or something then… my listeners know what I’m talking about, but I really appreciate all the things that you have shared with us today.

Center For Peace Helps Abusive Men Change

I want to continue this conversation, so stay tuned. We will have him back on again, not next week, but in the near future. We will also have his wife on in-between now and his next episode.

Thank you so much for being with us today James.

James: It is my pleasure. I’m grateful for the chance to share the good news about the Center for Peace.  I will say this, if possible, to any spouse that has experienced any type of betrayal or any type of abuse, if you get an opportunity to look into the Center for Peace, I would encourage you to just do it. Invest the money, invest the time. It takes a lot out of you emotionally and mentally and physically as far as the husband or abuser goes, but if you can just invest that energy.

Abusers Can Use BTR & Center For Peace to Learn Change

Think about all the resources that you’ve spent and all the time and the attitude that you’ve done abusing and acting out. Imagine if you could put that time and attention towards the healing of your spouse, how much better your life, your marriage, your family, your parenting would be.

I attribute all 150% of it, you know I give God the glory first, but beyond that I give Coach Joi and BTR and everybody there—I’m grateful because I wouldn’t be the same without them.

Anne: Thank you so much and thank you for coming on the podcast with the lady who you used to hate. That’s great.

James: Yes, ma’am.

Anne: I love being the lady people used to hate. That’s a good place to be. We will continue this conversation again once we can get another episode scheduled.

Center For Peace Helps Men Work Toward a Healthy Marriage

If you want to do this online program, it’s completely online and it involves the wife. The victim has a meeting with the coach every single week to let her know what is actually going on so there is no pulling the wool over her eyes because she’s like, “Well, he says this is going on but, no, this is what the victim is saying.” Center for Peace is a radically different way to help men stop their abusive behaviors.

If you’re interested, after hearing this interview, schedule an appointment with Coach Joi to have your initial intake session so she can explain how the program works and give you the informed consent forms.

Support the BTR Podcast

If this podcast is helpful to you, your support makes such a difference. Support the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast

Also, every single one of your ratings and reviews means so much to me so if you’re so inclined please go to iTunes or your other podcasting apps and rate this podcast today.

Until next week, stay safe out there.

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  1. Brooke

    I loved this podcast. I could SO relate to so much of it. One marriage counselor from LDSFS literally smirked when my husband told him point-blank in a session that he was emotionally abusive to me and needed help to stop. The therapist convinced him I was nuts (which was what he wanted to hear so it wasn’t all that hard to do, I imagine). That was hell.

    I would like to believe that someday I will be able to see males leading church or other organizations and not immediately feel unsafe. But for now, there is zero trust because every male leader and therapist we ever went to for help blamed me and colluded with my husband. Sick. Just so sick and wrong.

    I like knowing that Center for Peace is untangling these deeply embedded lies – gives me hope for the next generation. I also like how James talked about letting things swing far to his wife’s side. It reminds me of the tomato garden analogy in Lundy Bancroft’s book.

    Sorry for the long comment.. just loved this podcast so much!!

      • Alisa

        My experience is much the same as Brooke’s above. Reading this has made me want to cry. In my case, both my parents, brother and sister’s, now ex husband want to use my hearing loss as the excuse for their behaviors and have no accountability for how they treat me. I trust no counselors either for the same as Brooke above. I have funds for counseling, but..well the above.
        Thank you for letting me voice the above. You go right to the core.

  2. Eilidh

    Thank you so very much for your interview with James. It is SO heartening to hear from a male who is undertaking a deep, committed repair recovery. I am so interested in Centre for Peace but it will take some time to “wean” my partner, who is doing a pretty good job at recovery so far, onto the terminology of “abuser”. I will play this podcast next time we are in the car together and see what his thoughts are. It’s such a full on, harrowing journey. Thank you Anne for all you do for us and everything you offer.

  3. Mandy

    Just found this episode today. I’m looking for the episode with James’ wife, and any other episodes in this series.


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